The United American Defense Force (UADF), a controversial Colorado group may be an illegal militia, prohibited by provisions in both Colorado statute and the U.S. Constitution, according to a national legal expert.
UADF recruits members with promises of tactical training in urban warfare, discounts on weapons and ammunition, insurance protection and legal representation in “use of force” cases.
Its leader, John “Tig” Tiegen, a former Marine and security contractor who was part of the team defending the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya when it was overrun in 2012, included UADF’s “urban warfare” training in his pitch to join the group, delivered to Colorado Republican candidates and supporters at an October 2020 political event.
Earlier that summer, Tiegen explained his reason for founding UADF on a right-wing podcast, telling the host that he created the organization to oppose communists and antifa when the police, military, and other militias won’t act. He cited the protestors in Seattle who created the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone [CHAZ], during the 2020 George Floyd protests.
“Look at the “Nation of CHAZ,” said Tiegen. “That was that was a direct attack on us and we didn’t do anything. I mean literally the police got pulled out, told to stay away. the National Guard wasn’t didn’t get involved.You’ve got people trying to set up a freaking nation inside of a major city inside the United States and not a goddamn thing happened — nothing!
“And none of these Three Percent militias freaking stood up and actually went and did anything. Nobody did a damn thing about it and I’m going to. That’s why I’m standing up United American Defense Force, as I am gonna do something.”
The founder and leaders of the group have since denied they are a militia, even though the UADF website has described itself as “the first line of defense against domestic terrorists” and as comprised of citizens offering “protection and support when first responders are unwilling or unable to fulfill their civic duties.” This description is in line with the definitions of a vigilante group.
Mary McCord, a visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP), told the Colorado Times Recorder that while UADF might object to the label, the nature of their mission and their operations likely subject the group to constitutional regulations and restrictions of unauthorized “private” militias.
In a fact sheet summarizing pertinent Colorado laws, ICAP points to Article II, Section 22 of the state constitution which “forbids private military units from operating outside state authority, providing that ‘[t]he military shall always be in strict subordination to the civil power.'”
This “subordination clause,” as McCord refers to it, is supported in the U.S. Constitution as well, which gives Congress the power “[t]o provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia,” while reserving to the states “the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.” Thus, “a private militia that attempts to activate itself for duty, outside of the authority of the state or federal government, is illegal,” according to the ICAP fact sheet.
Colorado statutes also prohibit private, unauthorized militias and military units from engaging in activities reserved for the state militia, including law enforcement activities, as well as paramilitary activity during or in furtherance of a civil disorder.
“Even if there’s no statute in Colorado that says private militias are unlawful or it’s a crime to be a private militia,” McCord reiterated, “the lack of a statute that says those words doesn’t mean it’s okay, because it’s prohibited by the Constitution.”
When reached for comment on the legality of militias in Colorado, Lawrence Pacheco, Director of Communications for Colorado’s Attorney General’s office, said that “based on conversations I’ve had with several attorneys in the department, the term ‘militia’ is not defined under Colorado law and there is no law that regulates them. Hope this helps.”
But McCord pushed back on that legal assessment, saying:
“There’s other points to be made here. I think that it seems like the [office of the] attorney general is taking a very, very literal view of your question, right? ‘Armed militia is illegal. We don’t use the term “militia” in Colorado statutes, therefore, there’s not a regulation of militia.’ But what he didn’t do is address [the question of], ‘Well, are private, armed, coordinated groups that engage in paramilitary activity lawful in Colorado?’ And I think the answer’s pretty clearly ‘no.’ … It was never the case that [a militia] could just like call themselves forth — and particularly not in opposition to the actual government. And so the segment of the U.S. Constitution embodies these principles by giving Congress the authority under the militia clauses to provide for the organizing of militias. … They can’t just, like, [say], ‘Boom! We’re going to do our own muster and we’re going to go out and do our own military training and all that kind of stuff, and particularly in engaging with the public, whether it’s trying to direct the public in a way that clearly usurps law enforcement functions or whether it’s actually using their force ostensibly against the government like we’ve seen with some of these armed assaults on statehouses and things like that, and even on the U.S. Capitol. … Any essentially defense force must be subject to civilian authority and not be rogue. … So, I would say that any group that, you know, walks like a militia, talks like a militia, and quacks like a militia is really the a military unit that we’re talking about when we’re talking about it needs to be reporting to the governor.”
McCord stated that ICAP has partnered in lawsuits against paramilitary and white supremacy groups in Virginia following the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville where one demonstrator was killed, and against the New Mexico Civil Guard following that group’s actions during a protest of a statue of a Spanish conquistador in Albuquerque, where now protestor was shot.
ICAP also publishes advisory guides for identifying and intervening with paramilitary activity at polling places and related to elections.
What Is an Illegal Militia?
By way of an operational definition, ICAP classifies “any organized group of armed individuals that engage in paramilitary activity or law enforcement functions without being called forth by a governor or the federal government and without reporting to any government authority are acting as unauthorized private militias.” They sometimes train together and respond to events using firearms and other paramilitary techniques, such as staking out tactical positions and operating in military-style formations. They often purport to have authority to engage in military and law enforcement functions such as protecting property and engaging in crowd control.”
UADF, in its two-year existence, has organized a muster to counter a Black Lives Matter event, and encouraged members to attend public comment sessions of school board meetings wearing insignia and possibly armed. UADF has also claimed to have been contracted by business owners to guard properties impacted by the Marshall Fire in Louisville and Superior.
One man who joined participants in the Oct. 10, 2020, muster, Lee Keltner, was killed by an unlicensed private security guard following the muster. A muster is commonly defined as an assembling of troops prior to battle.
The night after the 2020 election, Tiegen tweeted a photo of several dozen armed men in military-style tactical gear, some of whom openly carried assault rifles. The caption read “UADF recon team standing by in Denver!” If the photo was actually taken in Denver, where open carrying any firearm has been outlawed for decades, it could be evidence of illegal activity by UADF members.
Previous to founding UADF, Tiegan, who also served as a Trump campaign spokesman, participated with an armed group that included individuals taking rooftop sniper positions in downtown Colorado Springs, claiming to protect private property following false rumors of “busloads of antifa” attending a BLM event.
Tiegan has also organized counter-demonstrations using similar language to his UADF calls to action, which he claims are not UADF operations. He has encouraged attendees to wear body armor and helmets, and he has allegedly used coded language inviting participants to carry concealed-carry pistols.
In December, Tiegan said, “I see a war coming, if we don’t stand together. And trust me, you don’t want to see it. A lot of veterans — I’ve seen it — there are some veterans that pray for it here in the U.S., which is stupid.”
While appearing to oppose violent insurrection, Tiegen has a history of posting images of group members training and posing with firearms. At least some of his social media accounts have been suspended, presumably for violating the terms and conditions of use in those platforms.
UADF is affiliated with a Colorado conservative advocacy group, FEC United, which was founded by Douglas County resident, entrepreneur, podcaster, and election fraud conspiracist Joe Oltmann, who has proffered violent threats toward political opponents, elected officials, and journalists.
Kristi Burton Brown, prior to becoming the current chair of the Colorado Republican Party and while serving as vice-chair, served as president of FEC United in the fall of 2020.
The Ark Valley Voice, an online news site in Chaffee County, has also reported on the legality of unauthorized militias in relation to active Three Percenter and “Patriot” groups in that area of the state.